Garcia, who migrated from Mexico 50 years ago, had a bond hearing in downtown Los Angeles on Friday afternoon. The hearing was meant to determine whether he could be released while deportation proceedings went on. However, an immigration judge fast-tracked his case and ruled Garcia could remain in the U.S. as a legal resident.
“I'm beyond happy, relieved, and thankful. My father did not belong there and the fight for my father paid off!" his daughter Natalie Garcia told Refinery29. "I can’t wait to have him home, our whole family is filled with joy. We will continue to advocate for families everywhere who are going through this. The fight isn’t over!"
This story was originally published on June 25, 2018.
It was a quiet Sunday morning in early June when Natalie Garcia heard the screams of her father Jose Luis Garcia coming from outside of their house in Southern California. The 62-year-old had been watering the lawn and drinking coffee, and Natalie ran outside thinking it was a medical emergency.
The scene she found was a nightmare: Her father, who migrated to the United States 50 years ago and has been a legal permanent resident since the late 1980s, was in handcuffs and surrounded by about eight immigration officials.
"I asked them to show me the warrant and they refused. I got skeptical and they told me it was not a criminal warrant, but an administrative warrant and they were taking him because a 2001 misdemeanor," she told Refinery29. "They had no identification, no badges, their vehicle was an unmarked vehicle. To be honest, I thought he was being kidnapped. They just gave me a business card with a case number. They didn't even tell me where he was going."
It wasn't until they left with José Luis in the car that it registered for her the agents were with the U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement, also known as ICE. Natalie said she collapsed to the ground in tears as she realized her father was in their custody.
José Luis is currently being detained over a 2001 domestic violence conviction, according to his family. (Refinery29 reached out to ICE for comment and has yet to hear back.) Natalie said his case exemplifies how the Trump administration has chosen has made it a priority to remove immigrants with pending criminal charges or past convictions — regardless of whether they have legal status. The administration also created a task force to identify whether there are naturalized U.S. citizens who lied on their citizenship applications and to strip them of it.
"We’re missing the leader of our family and we don't know what to do during this time," Natalie said. "They're targeting everybody right now. They have zero-tolerance, it can be the smallest thing and you can be targeted."
José Luis migrated from Mexico to the U.S. at the age of 13 with his brother. He made a living by picking fruit in Northern California, before trying his hand at amateur boxing and driving trucks. Today he works as machine operator at a factory, but has side gigs as a personal trainer at a gym and an Uber driver. Natalie said he is a homeowner who pays taxes and has spent all his life trying to achieve the American Dream.
He has five children, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
"My dad is such a charismatic dad, he's the jack-of-all-trades. He taught us to be driven, to pursue our dreams, to be smart," Natalie said. "He is a great parent who was always there — from ballet recitals to soccer games — and was really involved in our lives. He does everything for us, he works hard for his family."
José Luis became a permanent legal resident in 1988, after the Reagan administration legalized thousands of immigrants. He always carries his green card with him, Natalie said. But that didn't stop him from being detained by immigration officials earlier this month. According to his family, José Luis was convicted of a misdemeanor in 2001 after a domestic violence dispute involving his wife and completed his sentence of 25 days in jail, three years of probation, and anger management classes. Natalie added that the couple is still married to this day.
Anyone who is not a U.S. citizen could be detained by immigration officials and placed in deportation proceedings, according to attorney Hena Mansori of the National Immigrant Justice Center.
"Under the [Immigration Nationality Act], somebody who is currently in the United States can be deportable under prior criminal convictions," Mansori told Refinery29. "There's a ton of different crimes that can make somebody deportable. A lot of the times is the very minor offenses, not just the serious felonies, that can make someone deportable."
Per Mansori, a domestic violence misdemeanor could qualify as one of those offenses. She added that the 17-year gap between José Luis' conviction and detention is not a deterrent.
"There's no statute of limitations for [the Department of Homeland Security] to put somebody in removal proceedings based on a prior conviction," she said. Mansori added that because removal proceedings are a civil matter, not a criminal one, people can be potentially deported even when they complete the terms of their criminal sentence.
Natalie said one of the most frustrating things of her father's case has been the lack of clarity from officials, which has made it for the family to navigate the immigration bureaucracy. And of course, for their tight-knit family losing the patriarch has been a blow.
"I think about my dad and I'm worried. Is he okay? They only allow him one call for about 10 minutes a day. I didn't even get to see him on Father's Day," she said. "He's completely broken and that breaks our heart, because he's our pillar of strength. This is not right and this shouldn't happen to any family."
On Friday, Jose Luis will have a bond hearing where a judge will determine whether to grant him bail. For Natalie and her family, it's their focus to get him out of detention first.
"What worries me the most is whether he is getting the care he needs. He is 62-years-old, has high-blood pressure and diabetes. I know he puts a brave face for me, but he's helpless," Natalie said. "Right now, I'm more concerned for his health than anything. My biggest thing is bringing him home so we can fight this case together."